Peak(s):  Bent Peak  -  13,393 feet
Carson Peak  -  13,657 feet
"Tundra Top"  -  13,450 feet
"Cataract Peak"  -  13,524 feet
"Quarter Peak"  -  13,674 feet
Half Peak  -  13,841 feet
Unnamed 13164  -  13,164 feet
Unnamed 13580 B  -  13,580 feet
Unnamed 13581  -  13,581 feet
Date Posted:  08/07/2014
Date Climbed:   08/06/2014
Author:  doggler
 Darn Doodads!   

Start/end point: Carson Saddle (~12,400')


Bent Peak (13,393')
Carson Peak (13,657')
"Tundra Top" (13,450')
"Cataract Peak" (13,524')
"Quarter Peak" (13,674')
Half Peak (13,841')
PT 13,164
PT 13,580 B
PT 13,581*

Mileage: 21.1 miles*
Elevation: 8,828'*
Start: ~6:00 AM
End: ~3:35 PM
(splits below)

* - Garmin pooped out for a short time near 13,580B, numbers are slightly higher


  • If you're planning on Quarter and Half on the same trip, do Quarter first.
  • The Quarter/Half "traverse" is great if you hit the right contours, otherwise it probably sucks.
  • PT 13,164's east face offers a couple hundred feet of delightful scrambling.
  • PT 13,580B is maybe a foot higher than a few other sub-summits - make sure you hit the right one.


The summer of 2014 has been a challenge for all-day endeavors. Of the 20-plus days I've had the luxury to spend in the San Juans this summer, every single one of them has brought storms - most of them early and often. So when the NOAA forecast called for only 10% storms and even then starting after 2PM, I started to get excited at the possibilities! Having spent the past week in the Lake City area and wanting to shorten my list of remaining Centennials, I chose Half Peak as my primary objective for the day. I figured I should visit some other peaks while up there. After doing some research, I decided on attempting a big loop starting and ending at the Carson Saddle. I was originally familiar with this spot from racing the San Juan Solstice Trail Run in 2012, and then I stumbled upon Otina's excellent TR where she had done a loop originating from that spot.

Trailhead to Bent to Carson to Tundra Top to Cataract

Seriously, hitting these peaks felt like using the Contra cheat code. The up-and-down-and-up-and-down to get to Cataract took less than two hours. What a great way to start the morning - with a relaxing stroll over the tundra. The sun was low, the temps were crisp, and the wildflowers were out in full force. The summits of Bent and Carson were just high points along a ridge.

The view south from Carson Peak. UN 13,581, Rio Grande in background, 13,580B's false summit

Tundra Top and Cataract Peak

Tundra Top looked like a Longs summit covered with Kentucky Blue. From Tundra Top to Cataract, I began running into the infamous elk trails. When you're looking to traverse across something, call your friend the elk. Unfortunately, they're not fans of German technique. If you want to go up or down in this section of the San Juans, you're on your own.

I wonder why they call it Tundra Top?

I love finding the lower peaks registers.

"Cataract" to "Quarter"

Game on - no more tundra strolling for a while. I felt fresh and decided I could probably add Quarter to the menu and still get up Half before running out of gas. I was prepared to drop back down to the Tundra Top/Cataract saddle, but a look down a gully on the northwest face of Tundra Top told me that if it went, I would be deposited at precisely the right spot to ascend Quarter's east side. (thank you to Scott for the beta) I can't say I would recommend this descent on a more highly trafficked peak, as I definitely had a hand in speeding up the erosion/deposition process with the rocks I brought down with me. The good news was that it got me down to Cataract Creek at 11,600' with a quickness. It was 8:30, and I was ready to work the meat of the route.

Scree ski special

Elk. If you have to groups of elk, are those then elks?

Looking back up Tundra Tops east gulley

Waterfall on Cataracts northeast face

The early morning air's crispness was gone and I was out of the shade, so I ditched the long-sleeve and pant legs, applied some sunscreen, and went to work. Ascending the lower slopes of Quarter was relatively pain-free, just longer than the weaselish 400-ft ascents I had just done. Talus replaced tundra near 13,100'. The difficulty never exceeded 2+, but I wasn't expecting the last few hundred feet to be as loose as it turned out to be. I found ascending the false summit to be the crux of the route. Reading the summit register there, I couldn't help but chuckle. I've never seen so many comments regarding the awfulness of the trip over from Half!

Quarters lower east slopes

Good luck with your Quarter-Half ridge traverse!

Half from Quarter

"Quarter" to Half

As I descended Quarter, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I did remember, though, that Furthermore's excellent TR mentioned no such traversing misery. I remembered the elevations he gave, and they jived with what my eyeballs were telling me to do. Head back NE off Quarter's summit to 13,100' or so, then pop into the basin in image 12, cross a bit of talus, and rock it out at 12,800' or so. I was a bit worried about getting cliffed out as I couldn't see around the next corner, but I found myself dealing with nothing but elk paths and grassy tundra. My guess is that when you go Half to Quarter, it's easy to get sucked into going too high or too low too soon. The sweet spot seems to be around 12,700' to 12,900'. And I'm pretty sure it's easier to see this going Quarter to Half than Half to Quarter.
The lower traverse

Thank you elk! (Elks?)

Wide open spaces. Half looms beyond

I found the last couple hundred feet up Half's east face to be quite fun. I intercepted the faintly cairned route as described per Roach, but in reality it appears that much of that face goes. Just pick a line and go.


This is why people don't climb Halfs NE ridge

Half is just plain weird. It's mostly just a huge elevated plain, but it's flanked in three directions by some pretty gnarly cliffs. The summit felt a bit off-kilter as well. Don't get me wrong, it was a fun weird.

Half to UN 13,164

Wow. It wasn't even noon. I had made it to my main objective. I still had plenty of food and over a liter of water in my two-liter bladder. And I still felt great! Coming down Half, I took a look down and to the right for this mysterious unnamed peak that Roach mentioned. I can't exactly say it jumped out at me, but it looked like I might have an opportunity to cruise the Colorado Trail for a little bit and enjoy another summit.

13,164 in the lower right. Isnt it cute?

As I got closer to 13,164, its east face came into more focus. While I originally just planned on ascending the grassy slopes just south of the east face, the face itself began to draw me in. Once at its base, I decided to give it a go.

13,164s east face from the Colorado Trail

Just spicy enough

And go it did! There seemed to be thirty ways up the wall, all of them interesting and of varying degrees of challenge. I chose one that looked right for me, and found myself getting to do some super-fun chimney work up one line. I felt like a kid during recess, just swinging on monkey bars. From bottom to top, I don't think it took more than 15 minutes, but they were the best 15 minutes of the day.

You can see this cairn from South Bross

UN 13,164 to UN 13,580B to a feeble attempt at 13,581 to TH

From UN 13,164, it was time to at least start heading in the direction of home. The Colorado Trail passed right by 13,164, so I just hopped on and started running east. The only people I saw all day were a handful of thru-hikers on this stretch of a couple miles.

Rocking the CT eastbound. 13,580B up ahead

Maybe this is Cataract Lake. Maybe not. Whatever, it's still a cool lake

Sign, mountain, lake

Different climbers have different rules they abide by. Some are rigid - they say they'll climb A and B via C and they stick to that come hell or high water. Others simply tell their loved ones, "Hey, I'm going to go out for a hike somewhere. I'll be back sometime." Sometimes I am closer to the former, but on this day, I didn't know just how much gas I would have in my tank. As I got to a trail intersection and looked right, I felt the draw toward the two Pole Creek bis. I even took a couple steps in that direction, but reconsidered. To this point, I had felt so strong. I still had almost half of my water remaining. There was no evidence of building storms. But I decided not to push my luck. I was already planning on finishing up with 13,580B and 13,581, so I decided to just try to get them and finish my day. It turned out to be a good call.

Mellow tundra approaching 13,580B

As I ascended the gentle tundra that was the west slopes of 13,580B, the wheels began to come off. My penchant for conserving water until I need it bit me in the @$% as I found myself guzzling nearly the entire bladder dry during this pedestrian 1,200' ascent. Sure enough, my last sip came just as I came up to the 13580B-unranked13579-unranked13579 saddle. Damnit! All three points in this cirque looked identical from my vantage. I knew that without water, I didn't have the luxury of putzing around, so I picked the one that looked the highest - the middle one - and went. On top, my altimeter registered 13,588'! But...damnit! Looking at the other two summits, I honestly couldn't tell. There was no register, but that didn't mean anything...oh, what to do? I decided to just forge ahead and hope I had it right. (turns out later I guessed wrong - the southern of the three was the highest point)

A doodad! Awesome!

Looking over from pseudo-13,580B eastward to 13,581 lulled me into a false sense of confidence. By this time, I could remember that Otina's TR mentioned sneakiness of hoodoos on the ridge. Two problems, though. One: I couldn't remember WHAT the problem was. Two: I couldn't remember what exactly they were called, but I did remember it was an awesome word. Hoodads? Whodunnits? Doodads? Yes! DOODADS. So here I was. Beginning to get thristy, beginning to stagger, beginning to just want to be done, and all I could do was repeat the word Doodad in my head.

Doodads! Damn it!

As I followed the ridge, I was forced to drop south a couple times, traverse below a few doodads, then hop back on the ridge for some mellow tundraness. Then, just like that, I found myself doodadded out.

Normally, I would have enough perseverance to figure something out. I could not remember how others had tackled this - did Otina say she went north or south of the difficulties? Oh hell no she didn't go south! That's doodad central down there. But north? Where? Up that scree slope? Yuck!

It was here that I sat down for the first time during the day and just stared off into the distance. I certainly didn't feel it in me to drop and reascend the 500ish feet I thought I'd need, but I didn't want to drop down into the valley below, either. I began to concoct ideas for getting back to my car without actually having to do work. Alas, I came up empty-handed and began my last descent of the day.

The break in the 13,580B/13,581 ridge

Zombie shuffle mode fully activated, I fixated on the number showing on my Garmin. 13,400'. Step. 13,300'. Shuffle. 13,200'. Slide. 13,200'. Wait. I just looked a couples seconds ago. Ugh. Making the descent even more pleasurable was the realization that the valley floor was endowed with every peakbaggers favorite vegetation - willows!!! Luckily, a rock-infested creek cut through most of the madness, and I escaped the other side of the valley floor pretty much unscathed. I was in pure survival mode by now, and the last few miles on the CT back to my vehicle were a sunny, thirsty blur.

Willow hell

Willow relief

Carson ghost town

I got back to the Jeep. I got in the Jeep. I started driving the Jeep. And...within a mile, my rear left suspension - namely the damper - had decided to simply snap off and begin dragging and banging on the ground. Great. A little jimmyrigging using some bear line got it out of the way. I had to rely on just the spring to take the punishment of the Wager Gulch road. Somehow I managed to make it out.

Days like these are hard to gauge. It was 10 parts awesome and 2 parts crappy. Thing is, the two parts came at the end. It was overall a great day, but I sure pushed it till the every end.

TH to Bent: 0:28 (0:28)
Bent to Carson: 0:33 (1:01)
Carson to Tundra Top: 0:33 (1:34)
Tundra Top to Cataract: 0:24 (1:58)
Cataract to Quarter: 1:58 (3:56)
Quarter to Half: 1:34 (5:30)
Half to UN 13,164: 0:47 (6:17)
UN 13,164 to almost 13,580B: 1:43 (8:00)
almost 13,580B to doodads to car: 1:34 (9:34)

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32

Comments or Questions
great report!
08/08/2014 00:51
MacGyver'ing your jeep on the way out makes it a classic!

08/08/2014 17:42
This was my first 5+ 13er day. I remember it fondly, as well as the dehydration, as I stumbled back to my truck. Yeah, I dropped down and up the scree gully. Welcome to SJ scree!

Thanks for the beta on the Quarter, Half & 13,164. On my radar for next season. I always default to using Elk paths in the SJ's. They seem to summit more peaks than us humans do!

08/10/2014 15:58
Hokie - thanks - I've been fortunate - to date, I've had zero complete breakdowns in the backcountry. I suppose it's just a matter of time. Bear line luckily has many uses!

Natalie - our remaining Cents are polar opposites - I've done almost all of the ones you have left and vice versa. You'll enjoy Quarter and Half no matter how you slice them.

Otina - your TR was the one that inspired this loop, so thank you for that. I had read so much in the days before, I honestly couldn't remember what you had done to get up 13,581, but I figured it involved a chossy down-and-up from where I was perched. No worries, that's an area I have no problem returning to!

04/02/2015 19:45
is high on my short list, but I may content myself with a shorter loop Thanks for the pointers on the ridge between Quarter and Half. Nicely done.

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